Rassie Erasmus was confirmed as the new head coach of South Africa on Thursday on an unusually long six-year contract, with the former Springboks loose forward given the chance to lead the team through the next two Rugby World Cups in 2019 and 2023.
Erasmus, who played 36 Tests for the Springboks from 1997-2001 and captained his country in one Test, replaced Allister Coetzee, who left as head coach last month halfway through his contract following a dismal two years for the team.
As well as taking over the national team, Erasmus will also retain his title as director of rugby for the national union SA Rugby, a job he started at the end of last year after being wooed back following a short but successful time coaching in Europe.
The 45-year-old Erasmus has also coached in domestic and Super Rugby in South Africa. He worked recently as director of rugby for Irish club Munster, where he won the 2017 coach of the year award in Europe’s Pro12 tournament. He is regarded as an innovative and imaginative coach and once, early in his coaching career, had a habit of sitting near the top of the stadium during games and using a collection of lights to communicate instructions to his team.
He also has a reputation for preferring to work in the background rather than in the spotlight and apparently dislikes media appearances.
Erasmus’ Springboks contract will be until after the Rugby World Cup in 2023, the longest contract given to a Springboks coach in the professional era.
His first challenge will be to prepare a Springboks team low on confidence for a one-off test against Wales in the United States and then a three-test series against England in June. The big picture is getting the Springboks competitive again for the 2019 World Cup following two years under Coetzee when the team fell to a series of historic defeats.
“It is a huge task to coach the Springboks and I am very privileged,” Erasmus said in a statement. “I really believe we have the players and the rugby IP (intellectual property) to turn things around and to mount a serious challenge at next year’s Rugby World Cup.”
Erasmus will be helped by three full-time assistant coaches: Jacques Nienaber, the defense specialist who worked with Erasmus at Munster; scrum coach Pieter de Villiers; and backline coach Mzwandile Stick.
Erasmus’ appointment was widely expected but wasn’t straightforward following a difficult spell for the Springboks under Coetzee and then Coetzee’s acrimonious departure, which was finally announced at the start of February following months of speculation.
Coetzee was reportedly offered the chance to remain as head coach but in name alone and would effectively report to Erasmus, who would be in charge of the team. Coetzee refused that offer in a letter highly critical of SA Rugby’s management and which was leaked to the media at the start of the year.
Erasmus’ appointment comes at a time when the two-time world champion Springboks have lost much of their aura after being beaten 57-0 by the All Blacks, the low point of a terrible two years when they were also beaten by teams like Ireland, Argentina and Italy under Coetzee.
“The Springbok team is our flagship brand and the on-field performances have a direct impact on the business of SA Rugby,” said SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux. “Following a very detailed review process of the 2017 season, I believe that we have managed to assemble a strong and experienced Springbok coaching and management staff. We are looking forward to see improved performances this season.”